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Ex-Wilko boss apologises to everyone who lost their job when firm went bust

Empty shelves and 'everything must go' posters as the Wilko store in the centre of Bradford earlier this year <i>(Image: Newsquest)</i>
Empty shelves and 'everything must go' posters as the Wilko store in the centre of Bradford earlier this year (Image: Newsquest)

THE former boss of retailer Wilko has apologised to everyone who lost their jobs when the company collapsed.

Roles were axed in Bradford after the 93-year-old business went bust in the summer.

The city's Wilko, which was based on Rawson Quarter, shut on September 17 - leaving many shoppers saddened.

Lisa Wilkinson, Wilko's former chair and granddaughter of the founder, is today facing MPs over the firm's demise.

Nationally, more than 12,000 people lost their jobs due to the retailer's collapse.

Ms Wilkinson told the Business and Trade Select Committee: "I am devastated that we have let each and every one of those people down with the insolvency of Wilko.

"I don't know how to put into words how sad I am that we have let down all our team members, all our customers, our suppliers, and our advisers."

Pushed by chair of the committee, MP Liam Byrne, to apologise directly, Ms Wilkinson said: "You can have the word sorry, of course I am sorry … I am sorry that we are not there supporting these people any more."

Ms Wilkinson said there were a number of reasons for Wilko's failure - one of which was soaring interest rates after ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss's mini-budget in autumn last year.

"We were about to enter into secured lending arrangements with Macquarie when the 2022 mini-budget happened," she said.

"Literally we were in the midst of that, and at that point the interest terms on that loan were hiked massively and that became infeasible. So, that was a contributor."

It came after the committee heard evidence from the GMB union that Wilko had told it of a "challenging trading position" as early as 2010.

"We've got correspondence between ourselves and Wilko where they identify a challenging trading position from about 2010," said GMB national officer Nadine Houghton.

"They identify that the discount retailers are an issue."

She said that, rather than leaning into that, the company tried to change its business model.

"What you see is a move away from this idea of Wilko as a discount retailer," Ms Houghton said.

She added: "The internal messaging to our members … was very much this attempt to move very much to almost a John Lewis-type model."

Wilko was founded in 1930 by James Kemsey Wilkinson, who opened the first store in Leicester.

By the 1990s, it was one of Britain's fastest-growing retailers.